All Ryan Westmoreland was expecting when he came to the Lowell Spinners’ hot stove dinner in January was the chance to catch up.
It had been years since he had seen some of the faces in the room.
It was hard for assistant general manager and director of media relations Jon Boswell to keep the secret.
For all the awards the Spinners handed out that night, their biggest announcement was that they wanted to honor Westmoreland by making the number he wore (No. 25) in Lowell five years ago the first in team history to be retired.
“We were talking for a bit and we had already made the decision that we were going to make an announcement to retire his number,” Boswell said. “We hadn’t told him. We hadn’t told his family.
“When we were talking, I wanted to give him a heads-up, like ‘Just so you know . . . ’ ”
At first, Boswell was silent.
Westmoreland didn’t believe the news at the time, and with the ceremony Wednesday at LeLacheur Park, he still doesn’t.
“It really took months to set in,” Westmoreland said. “I was so shocked and speechless and I was so honored that they would do something like that — the first number they’ve ever retired.
“It was huge for me and my family and for everyone who knows how hard I was working and how hard I do work and to be appreciated and recognized for that is really special.”
In the 15 months since Westmoreland announced his retirement from baseball after working to come back from a pair of surgeries to repair an abnormal growth of blood vessels in his brain, he has come away with a clear-eyed view of the way his career, which seemed to have limitless potential, ended.
The season he spent in Lowell in 2009 was special not just because of the numbers he put up (.296 batting average, 7 home runs, 15 doubles, 3 triples, 35 RBIs in 60 games), but because of the experience. He was the local kid from Portsmouth, R.I., whose star was rising fast through the Red Sox’ system.
“Looking back, my summer in Lowell was probably one of the best summers of my life,” Westmoreland said. “Not just from a statistical standpoint, but it was so cool playing in front of thousands of people every night. Diehard Red Sox fans.
“I know it was special, especially for me, coming out of high school being used to playing in front of only 10-20 people, all parents, to getting a packed house every night and getting an idea of what pro baseball was like. I can’t imagine a better place to start your career than Lowell.”
When Boswell told him of the plan, all the memories from that season came rushing back for Westmoreland.
“I pretty much had flashbacks,” Westmoreland said. “I know the whole lineup when I was there. Pretty much every at-bat I can go back and remember.”
Westmoreland is now at peace with life after the game.
He lives in Estero, Fla., with his 6-month-old yellow Labrador, Petie, and just finished his first year of online classes at Northeastern University. He’s considering focusing on business management.
The decision to leave the game was difficult, Westmoreland said.
“It was tough. It was the hardest decision ever,” he said. “But at the same time, I realized it was time to move on and turn the page. I’m still very young, I just turned 24, so I’ve got a lot ahead of me. I just felt like it was time to move on and pursue other things. Certainly getting back into school is the right start. I’m going to go from there.”
What helped, he said, was that the Red Sox organization never treated him any differently despite everything he went through.
“They acted like I was just the same person I used to be, which was huge for me, because mentally you have the self-conscious feeling,” Westmoreland said.
In Lowell, Westmoreland is still remembered for being the wide-eyed 19-year-old who was ranked among the top 30 prospects in baseball.
“At 19, he was already the best player on that team and he was already one of the best players in the league,” Boswell said. “His approach at the plate was advanced. His defensive skills were advanced. Everything about him.”
The plan is to make the retirement ceremony a mini-reunion, bringing in a cast of Westmoreland’s teammates as well as former manager Gary DiSarcina and putting together a video tribute.
“It’s going to be special,” Westmoreland said. “I’m looking forward to this night, getting to see so many familiar faces that I haven’t seen in so long that really made me who I am today. I’m just really excited and thankful for everyone involved for making this night so special.”
No slowing down
Mookie Betts is making a mockery of typical minor league progression. He’s reached base in all 16 games since his promotion to Triple A Pawtucket, hitting .302 with two home runs, 10 RBIs, and nine walks . . . In his first start of the season after recovering from Tommy John surgery, Jason Garcia tossed five scoreless innings in a 2-1 win over Connecticut on Thursday. He set down 10 of the first 11 batters he faced and finished with five strikeouts . . . Nick Longhi, who fell to the Red Sox in the 30th round in last year’s draft, has looked deserving of his $440,000 signing bonus. Through five games with the Spinners, Longhi is hitting a team-best .350 and four of his seven hits have gone for extra bases. . . . Miguel Pena, a lefthander for Double A Portland, was suspended 100 games after testing positive for a drug of abuse. It was the third failed drug test and the second in the last 14 months for Pena.Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.